View this article in Spanish | bilingual

Dos Manzanas

You have to see him there on the streets of an old neighborhood in Madrid; you have to look for him, young and tanned, with an open white shirt, specked with some paltry design, a style out of fashion, and with his blue jeans, as he hurries along. You have to see him knowing that his name is Abdul Azad, that he is from Tangiers, and that his name, at this very moment, is rattling around in the head of someone else, who, two blocks from there, has laid a trap for him while Abdul walks along between hope and fear among the blurring colors that mottle the parked cars and filthy storefronts.

And try to imagine what we will never know for sure: what old grudge (since it did not stem from us) and what precise urgency are at the root of everything that is going to happen today, Sunday, within the next ten minutes, in apartment 3L, in the alleyway off 11 Ángel Street, where Rashid is holding a pistol in his right hand.

The only details we have at our disposal are these: 1. That Abdul Azad, nineteen years old, and Rashid Azad, twenty-eight, are brothers. 2. That the minutes pass leaving beads of sweat on their brows, which some time ago in a market in Tangiers were furrowed in tense disagreement. 3. That Abdul rounds the first block while Rashid carefully slides the magazine into the butt of the gun, his hands trembling. 4. That Abdul and Rashid are both thinking about the fate of Abdul. 5. That Rashid releases the safety on the pistol, which he places on the table, as Abdul makes his way past the final corner of the second block. 6. That ten minutes have passed.

With this information it will be much easier to be witnesses to the following events. We will see, with the blue clarity of an April Sunday, Abdul standing before the intercom of a closed doorway with a wooden door, its varnish scarred and pockmarked. And we’ll see that Abdul presses the metal button to ring apartment 3L, which prompts a buzz, followed by a pause, and then a voice.

Rashid tells him to come up, and the door opens. Abdul’s body feels the humidity of the hallway; his spirit, the shadow.

There is nothing to hear but a block of silence, penetrated by the faint clatter of Abdul’s steps as he climbs the wooden stairs to the first floor. The building does not have an elevator; what it does have, though, is a tremulous yellowish light, which it gives off once you press the switch on the landing. Abdul does.

There are still two floors to go. As if it were some faraway music, the foreign odor of a stew, which someone has seasoned with pork fat and soup bones, wafts over to him. We recognize the scent, the stew is familiar to us. While we busy ourselves thinking about where it is coming from, whetting our appetites, Abdul is arriving at the door of apartment 3L.

He looks at the painted door, brown and chipped; he fixes his gaze on the pagan symbol of Christ nailed to the center of a crucifix and set on a plaque on the doorframe where two names appear, those of the presumably deceased Don Antonio Jiménez Cuevas and his wife Doña Antonia.

But he’s more worried about finding out what’s happening on the other side of the door, inside a space that he does not know and which will shortly assume volume and shape before his eyes. He is trying to imagine (in vain) what fate lies in wait for him in one of the rooms once he takes a seat to speak with his brother.

He waits a few seconds while these thoughts condense inside his head before escaping out onto his forehead transformed, again, into beads of sweat. He gathers himself and rings the bell, which does not sound (it is broken). He raps on the door with his knuckles, worn down by faces and doors.

On the other side, Rashid, sitting in a chair, grasps the pistol. These few seconds are interminable for him and drench his back in sweat and, along with him, the jockeys printed on his shirt. He has heard the breathing of his brother on the other side of the door even before the knocking starts. He has waited for the thumps with patience, although on hearing them a vertigo sets in, dizzying and inscrutable, and it chomps at his heart. It beats so strongly now that Rashid fears Abdul will think that he has returned the knocks on the door from the other side. We also hear this beating, and we like that we can. Because we enjoy, without realizing it, the terror of others when we see it from afar, especially from behind a window. It is beating so hard now that his heart is practically giving orders, and Rashid changes plans. Straining, he lifts the sloping, fatty mounds of his body as he stands up, shuddering for a moment, and he opens a drawer where there are two apples, both a lustrous green. He hides the pistol between them. His sweaty hand, which has smeared the knob of the drawer, now wets the front door.

Head to head, the two brothers piece together the images before them, a version of which has been living in their memories. The work is difficult for Abdul because Rashid is much fatter now than he once was, and he doesn’t fit with the Rashid from the past. They hesitate, hug, but neither of them smiles.

Abdul closes the door. Rashid walks over to the drawer, opens it, and the pistol flashes even without the least bit of light reflecting off it. Abdul has seen something glimmer, and his disquiet is confirmed. But Rashid’s hands, shaking with indecision and fear, opt for the apples, and he extends one to his brother. “It must have been these that I saw,” thinks Abdul, “since they are so green and shiny.”

A minute slowly slides by in the hallway below, and, advancing like a serpent, climbs its way toward the apartment. They chew their apples in silence. But Rashid’s jaw tightens, and he struggles with his. He knows that no one will have the chance to digest the fruit. So he returns to the drawer, peering into it—and Abdul receives a shot in the gut. The first thing to fall to the floor is the apple.

“The whole neighborhood must have heard that,” Rashid thinks. And it’s true: all of us have heard it, and we don’t even live in the neighborhood.

What are you going to do, Rashid? We watch you stick the barrel in your mouth, where we glimpse the metal flash, glistening with saliva. But until you shoot we’re not going to believe any of it, because we have seen so many movies with surprise endings that now there are few things left that can unsettle us. Of course life is another thing entirely, and you shoot without ceremony. The core of your apple also falls first. We get up to leave, we’ve seen enough.

Translation of “Dos Manzanas.” Copyright Ernesto Pérez Zúñiga. Translation copyright 2011 by Jonathan Blitzer. All rights reserved.